I was astonished by a claim made by Taylor Downing in his review of the film The Desert Rats, which I can only hope was a typo. At the start of the siege in April 1941, when General Morshead took command, there were 40,000 troops in total in the perimeter, with 15,000 of these considered ‘useless mouths’.
The majority were indeed Australians, as Downing states, but with a strong contingent of British troops, especially in the armour and artillery.
However, at the time of the relief of Tobruk in December 1941, there was but one battalion of Australians remaining, with the garrison being almost wholly replaced by the British 70th Division, consisting of probably about 20,000 British troops, supported by a brigade of fearsome Poles and a Czech battalion, plus other ‘odds and sods’.
The contribution of the 70th Division in carrying the heaviest burden of the relief operation to the longest siege in British military history deserves much more recognition than it has previously received.
Any chance that the extraordinary achievement of the Royal Navy in accomplishing this could get some overdue recognition ahead of the 80th anniversary of the event later this year?
Finally, I would urge all readers to look up a brilliant history of the siege, Tobruk: The Great Siege Reassessed, by Frank Harrison, who was in the fortress throughout the blockade.
THE MIGHTY MANY
Thanks for the update on the Masters of the Air miniseries, produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, in your news section (MHM June/July 2021). I’m sure it will be as gripping as its two predecessors, Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
However, experts on the strategic air war in World War II will be aware that the subject of this new miniseries, the mighty American 8th Air Force, and their comrades in arms at night, the RAF Bomber Command, did not in fact accomplish their joint mission to wreck German war production.
Nazi Production Minister Albert Speer’s figures in every category of war materiel – tanks, guns, fighters, submarines etc – increased annually by huge proportions between 1942 and 1945, thanks to his dispersal and movement of production underground. All were in plentiful supply at the war’s end.
Instead, Germany was defeated because of the destruction of their petroleum and synthetic fuel and lubrication production facilities, as well as their transportation means. Speer could not disperse those underground, and so weapons could not be sent to the fronts, and, once there, they often depended on capturing Allied fuel in order to fight offensively.
These facilities were the strategic targets of the lesser known USAAF 9th, 12th, and especially the 15th squadrons, and they were completely incapacitated by 1945. Unfortunately, these heroic airmen got less press attention than did the 8th during the war, hence the history that rewards the wrong units.
But the honour for selfless sacrifice and the heroic effort against deadly odds belongs to all Allied bomber crews equally, and so the storyline suffers only a little in concentrating on the ‘Mighty 8th’.
Col Wayne Long (ret’d)
SKETCH WITH A BACKSTORY
Fred Chiaventone’s article entitled ‘Debacle in the wilderness: Braddock at Monongahela’ (MHM June/July 2021) was very well written and covered the subject in great detail. So too was the map helpful in understanding the events.
On a more interesting note, I knew I had seen one of the featured images, a drawing entitled ‘Canadian Indian’, before. It relates to the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham. With a little research, the figure of the native warrior appears in the painting entitled The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (1770).
The following quote is taken from an online article on this artwork:
‘The depiction of the Indigenous warrior in the painting, by kneeling with his chin on his fist and looking at General Wolfe, has been analysed in various ways. In art, the touching of one’s face with one’s hand is a sign of deep thought and intelligence (thus Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker). Some consider it an idealisation inspired by the noble savage concept.’
‘Original items of clothing that were used as a model for portraying the warrior in the painting can be found in the British Museum’s collection (as well as additional First Nation artefacts used in other paintings by West).’
I suspect that the drawing that appeared in the article could have been a preliminary sketch by West.
Keep up the good work.
Calum Henderson’s most interesting article on the D-Day Story Museum and the restoration of LCT 7074 (MHM August/September 2021) brought back very pleasant memories of a voyage I made on LCT 4128, Her Majesty’s Army Vessel Arezzo, in July 1968. As a young Army Officer based in Sharjah, I was detailed to take my troop from Sharjah to Bahrain for our Royal Corps of Transport ‘Corps Week’ celebrations.
The captain was, of course, a major – and he provided entertainment during the slow voyage by inviting the officers to blaze away with a variety of machine- guns at empty orange boxes thrown overboard by the soldiers, who took bets on our marksmanship!
Lt Col Roger Laing (ret’d)